BERLIN (Reuters) - A leading German foreign ministry official has called the country's massive trade surplus "unfair", joining others in Europe and the United States in criticising Germany for not boosting its domestic demand and dismantling global imbalances.
Europe State Secretary Michael Roth, a Social Democrat (SPD), became the first senior government official to speak out against the surplus, which has been defended by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Chancellor Angela Merkel, both of whom are Christian Democrats.
"Just as the deficit countries bear the responsibility to improve their situation, so the so-called surplus countries also bear a responsibility," he said, in comments reported by Spiegel Online.
"Through the growing low wages sector and increase in flimsy employment contracts we have created an unfair advantage compared to our partner countries."
He added that Germany must do more to reduce imbalances within the European Union.
Germany's trade surplus reached a new record last year of 198.9 billion euros (164.5 billion pounds).
Europe's largest economy has come under international pressure for relying too heavily on foreign markets for growth and not fostering domestic demand which would benefit struggling trade partners within the 18-member euro zone.
Schaeuble argues Berlin has more than halved its current account surplus with the euro zone as a share of gross domestic product since 2007 and is relying more on domestic demand than trade to drive growth.
Domestic demand is set to strengthen this year.
The SPD, who joined Merkel's conservatives in a new coalition government last December, campaigned hard for measures to boost domestic demand including massive infrastructure spending and a new minimum wage.
(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Sophie Hares)